The History of CIA-Funded Foundations

who paid the piper

Who Paid the Piper: The Cultural Cold War1

by Frances Stoner Saunders

Granta Publications (1999)


Book Review

Who Paid the Piper: The Cultural Cold War is about the covert “cultural” propaganda the CIA carried out between 1950 and 1967. The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the centerpiece of this operation, had offices in 35 countries, published over 20 magazines, held art exhibitions and provided major financial support for American artists, poets, authors and playwrights. Its primary purpose was to “nudge” the intelligentsia of Western Europe away from Marxism and communism towards a more accommodating view of US interests.

At the end of World War II, Europeans tended to view the US as “a culturally barren nation of gum chewing, Chevy driving, Dupont-sheathed Philistines.” To counteract this stigma, Truman issued an appendix to executive order NSC-4A, directing the CIA director to undertake covert psychological activities in support of American anti-Communist policies.

As Saunders details, this strategy included CIA support for both US and foreign Non-Communist Left (NCL) organizations, trade unions who agreed to weed out “dangerous radicals” and leftist intellectuals. The rationale was to create and support “parallel” organizations to provide an alternative to Communist groups over which the CIA had no control.

A strong advocate of this approach was “liberal” Kennedy adviser and biographer Arthur Schlesinger, a long time member of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. He was one of the few non non-CIA employees Congress members who knew the CIA was running it. Schlesinger also sat on the executive committee of Radio Free Europe, which the CIA set up in 1950.

Without Budgetary Limits or Oversight

Over the next two decades the CIA acted as a de facto ministry of culture, pumping millions of dollars into the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The Congress had no budgetary limits and was accountable to no one for the way they spent their money.

Via the this front organization, the CIA built the reputations of numerous American composers by funding European premiers of their work. Among the most prominent were Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Menotti and Aaron Copeland.

They also financed European performances of American plays, in essence solidifying the careers of Lillian Hellman, Eugene O’Neill, Thorton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, William Saroyan, Clifford Odets, and John Steinbeck.

And paid for the European distribution of American books, by authors such as Louisa May Alcott, Faulkner, Hemingway, James Thurber, Edith Wharton, Thomas Wolfe, T.S. Eliot and socialists Norman Cousins and Carl Sandburg.

The Wall Street Families Who Started the CIA

Who Paid the Piper focuses heavily on the personalities of the men who founded the Office for Strategic Services (OSS), which in 1947 would evolve into the CIA. Nearly all were from wealthy Ivy League and Wall Street families who attended the same cocktail parties and sent their kids to the same prep schools. They automatically identified the “American way” with the privileges of their class, including a well-rounded classical education. During this period, it was fairly common for high level CIA officers to edit literary magazines, as well as publishing poetry and fiction and writing book reviews for the New York Times.

The Rise of CIA-Funded Foundations

Although Tom Braden, director of the CIA’s International Operations Division (IOD), ran the Congress, on paper it appeared to drive its funding from “pass-through” foundations. The best known foundations serving as a conduit for covert CIA funds were (are?) the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kaplan Foundation, the Whitney Trust and the Farfield Foundation. Many of these foundations set up separate administrative units to handle CIA pass through money and collaborate with them on specific projects.

Arthur Schlesinger sat on the board of Farfield Foundation, as did William van den Heuvel, another prominent liberal close to the Kennedy family (and father of Katherine van den Heuvel editor of the “left leaning” Nation magazine).

C. D. Jackson, long time managing director of Time-Life International was another high profile Congress member.2 The Congress also assigned a full time CIA operative to Paramount pictures. His role was to edit and reject scripts that portrayed the US in an unfavorable light.

Tom Braden Goes Public

In 1966, details of the CIA role in the Congress for Cultural Freedom were leaked to the radical zine Ramparts and ended up as a New York Times expose. A few months later Braden, who left the CIA in 1956, published a confessional in the Saturday Evening Post. In “I’m Glad the CIA is Immoral,” he brags about all the reporters and trade unions on the CIA payroll when he ran the OID.

A growing body of research indicates that the CIA continues to fund the Non-Communist Left. Based on the work of Sherman Skolnick, Bob Feldman, Brian Salter and others who research the 990A tax returns of so-called “liberal” foundations, CIA pass-through foundations are clearly alive and well.

Frequently referred to as “Left Gatekeeping Foundations,” they fund numerous so-called “alternative” media outlets. This may be why the Nation, Democracy Now, FAIR and similar outlets that rely on pass-through founding categorically refuse to cover the 9-11 Truth movement or the clear government role in the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King.

1The book was published in the US under the title The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. The CIA has posted a review of the US edition on website
2In 1953-54, Jackson was instrumental in establishing the Bilderberg Group. In 1963 he purchased the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination and kept it out of the public domain by locking it in a Time-Life vault for 15 years.

In the following video, liberal feminist Gloria Steinem discusses the funding she received from the CIA for her work:

Originally posted at Veterans Today

How the CIA Promotes Nonviolence

(More from my research for A Rebel Comes of Age)

As Ward Churchill (in Pacifism as Pathology) and Peter Gelderloos (in How Nonviolence Protects the State) suggest, white middle class activists have very complex psychological reasons for their dogmatic attitude towards political violence. However it’s also important to look at the role played by the US government and the corporate elite in institutionalizing the nonviolent movement.

The International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC)

In 2007, Australian journalist and research Michael Barker published a fascinating expose in Green Left Weeklys regarding the role played by the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) and similar Left Gatekeeping Foundations* in promoting a de facto taboo against violent protest in North America.

The role the ICNC and sister foundations have played in galvanizing the “color” revolutions in the Eastern Europe, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Chile, Haiti (and more recently the Middle East and North Africa) was first identified in William I. Robinson’s groundbreaking 2006 Promoting Polyarchy. Robinson defines “polyarchy” as “low intensity democracy” – a form of government that replaces violent coercive control with the type of ideological control (i.e. brainwashing) that Noam Chomsky describes in Manufacturing Consent.

In Promoting Polyarchy, Robinson describes how Church Committee reforms of the late seventies forced the CIA to cut back on many of their more repressive covert activities (i.e. domestic spying and clandestine assassination). Their response, in 1984, was to create the National Endowment for Democracy. NED works closely with the CIA, the US Agency for International Development (USAID is another well-documented conduit for CIA funding), and other “democracy manipulating” foundations, such as US Institute for Peace, the Albert Einstein Institute, the Arlington Institute, Freedom House and the International Republican Institute.

Robinson also provides detailed outlines how these US-based “democracy manipulating organizations” orchestrated “non-violent” revolutions in the Philippines and Chile to prevent genuinely democratic governments from coming to power. As well as sabotaging democratically elected governments in Nicaragua and Haiti (where they caused the ouster of the Sandinista government and the populist priest Jean Bastion Aristide).

According to Robinson, the Left Gatekeepers deliberately infiltrate and “channel” (i.e. co-opt) the genuine mass movements that form naturally in countries dominated by repressive dictators. The goal is to make sure they don’t go too far in demanding economic rights (for example, labor rights or restrictions on foreign investment) that might hurt the interests of multinational corporations.

The ICNC’s PBS Documentary

Barker’s work goes even further than Robinson’s in examining the ICNC’s efforts to influence the US progressive movement. Specifically Barker points to the phenomenal influence of the 2000 book and PBS documentary (and now computer game) A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Change.

The ICNC is naturally defensive about research by Barker and others linking them to the NED and other “democracy manipulating” foundations. Their website devotes an entire page Setting the Record Straight to refuting these studies. Their argument, that they receive no NED or government funding, is totally factual. The ICNC receives all their funding from co-founder Peter Ackerman, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and his wife Joanne Leedom-Ackerman. Ackerman earned his fortune as a specialist in leveraged buyouts, the second highest paid in Wall Street history (Michael Milken made more but went to jail for it.)

Why Did the ICNC Seek to Oust Hugo Chavez?

Barker refers to the argument over the source of their funding as whitewashing, especially given the collaboration between the ICNC and the Albert Einstein Institution in training the conservative Venezuelan opposition who fronted the 2002 coup against democratically elected Hugo Chavez.

As Barker points out, both Ackerman and his wife and ICNC co-founder Jack Duvall have a long history of working for and with the other “democracy promoting” foundations. In addition many of the vice presidents and other officers involved in running the ICNC have links to US or foreign military/intelligence operations or other “democracy promoting” foundations.

This is clear from the following diagrams summarizing the Ackermans’ links to “democracy manipulating” and military intelligence entities:

Groups to which Peter Ackerman is connected (past and present) 


Peter_Ackerman_chartGroups to which Joanne Ackerman is connected (past and present)



Jack Duvall, the other ICNC co-founder, has similar intelligence and “democracy manipulating” links. According to Sourcewatch, he helped former CIA director James Woolsey co-founded the The Arlington Institute. The latter is a non-profit intelligence gathering think tank which boasts:

“We will be able to anticipate the future, thanks to the interconnection of all information to do with you. Tomorrow we shall know everything about you.” [link]

More on the background of other ICNC officers at the Nonviolent Military Industrial Complex and The Velvet Slipper and the Military-Peace Complex

*Left Gatekeeping Foundations oundations are non-profit foundations seeking to limit the acceptable range of leftist debate and political activity within the US and in client states. They usually receive most or all of their funding from the CIA, Pentagon, State Department and/or right wing think tanks and foundations. See Does the CIA Fund Both the Right and the Left and The Cointelpro Role of Left Gatekeeping Foundations


Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords: